Belfast Telegraph

Ulster Orchestra facing the axe 'within weeks' due to cash crisis

Adrian Rutherford

By Adrian Rutherford

The Ulster Orchestra could face closure within weeks because of severe financial pressures, a Stormont committee has heard.

The orchestra, one of Northern Ireland's leading artistic organisations, has seen its funding slashed in recent times.

Budget cuts have been compounded by a fall in revenue from sponsorships.

The extent of the cash crisis was revealed at a meeting of the Assembly's Culture, Arts and Leisure committee yesterday.

During the meeting NI21 MLA Basil McCrea said he had been told that unless the orchestra receives assurances by November 15, it would cease to exist.

Culture Minister Carál Ní Chuilín admitted the orchestra's position was "scary".

Ms Ní Chuilín was appearing alongside department officials Peter May and Arthur Scott to brief members on DCAL's business plan for the current financial year.

She was asked specifically about the Ulster Orchestra by Mr McCrea. In response she said: "I'm aware of the Ulster Orchestra's financial position, even just from what I've read in the media."

The minister added: "I will be having a meeting with the Ulster Orchestra soon. I'm also, and have been, aware that the Ulster Orchestra has been facing financial difficulties for some time.

"Certainly even going by some of the media reports that I've read recently, the position goes from scary to scarier."

Mr McCrea said he believed the Ulster Orchestra's position was becoming more precarious.

He asked the minister: "I have heard from reliable sources that if it's not resolved by November 15, that the Ulster Orchestra will cease to exist – that is your understanding?"

Ms Ní Chuilín replied: "Well again I have read speculation in the papers and I look forward to hearing from the Ulster Orchestra rather than speculate.

"I would rather just approach the meeting and hear what the Ulster Orchestra have to say and then in turn hear what we have to say on the basis of what proposals they may be bringing forward because I also understand from some media reports they are doing meets with ministers about rescue packages."

Mr McCrea urged the minister to "take command" of the situation and see what could be done.

Later in the meeting, DUP MLA Gordon Dunne said he had also heard concerns about the orchestra's future.

"I've been openly lobbied about this by constituents who are in the Ulster Orchestra and they are genuinely concerned about the future of it in relation to funding," he said.

"There are major issues there, major issues of concern. It is seriously under threat."

Committee chair Nelson McCausland said there was "clearly an issue", adding: "The question is the extent of the issue and the pressures."

During the meeting Ms Ní Chuilín was asked for her reaction to news that the Tourism Events Fund has been scrapped.

The fund helped more than 60 events from Londonderry's Halloween carnival to the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival.

Although cash for big events such as the North West 200 and Ulster Grand Prix is secure for the immediate future, the minister said it must not be at the expense of community festivals.

"It would be a great shame if, for example, big sporting events are protected and small cultural ones aren't," Ms Ní Chuilín said.

Further reading:

Stormont's red alert as Sinn Fein and DUP accept £100m Treasury bailout 

Sinn Fein and the fantasy economics that don't add up  

Peter Robinson on welfare row: Time we got real and returned to the proposal negotiated over a year ago 

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